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Originally CD burners and PCs were slow, and it was a bad idea to try to do anything else while a CD was being burned. I'll look at the situation today.

It used to be that it was risky to switch to another Windows app while your CD burner was working. It could cause corruption on the CD. Is this still the case with modern CD burners? I've still kept up the habit of leaving the machine alone while burning, but would love to be doing something else in the background if it's now safe.

You and I have had the same experience.

"Back in the day" once you started a CD burning you were wise to keep your hands off the computer until it was done. "Back in the day" that often meant for a full hour if the disc was to be filled, as the CD writers worked at 1x speed.

More than a few things have changed since then.

As a result, "multi-task within reason" is my response.

But I guess I need to explain what I mean by reason.

The Definition of Reason

While burning CDs and DVDs, which I do regularly, I multi-task away within reason. That means that I'm regularly reading email, browsing the web and such while burns are happening.

"The good news also is that most CD-burning software will detect and alert to errors rather than just leave you with a corrupt disk."

I think several things have changed over the years that now combine to make it much safer to continue using your computer while you're burning something:

  • CPUs are faster, so any computational limitations of the burning process aren't as big a deal in comparison. This also means that most other things you might do won't have as large an impact on the needs of the burning process.

  • The software that does the burning (I use ImgBurn) is, I think, better at buffering and prioritizing its work. You'll often see software "filling buffers" before the media even starts spinning.

  • The drives themselves have larger internal buffers and are more resilient to interruption. In addition to the buffering of the previous point, I regularly see an additional "hardware buffer" being filled as well. The net result is that the drive can, on its own and without additional data from the PC, keep burning for several seconds. That's not something that the old drives were capable of.

  • Multi-speed drives are able to slow down and burn more slowly if the media is difficult to burn, or presumably if the CPU isn't sending data to be written to the drive fast enough.

  • The limiting factor, after the write-speed of the burner itself, is the data transfer speed from the hard disk to the burner. Disks are faster and the I/O channels over which data is transferred are faster than they were in days past.

  • Windows itself has changed. In particular the "cooperative multi-tasking" that essentially mimicked true multi tasking in Windows 9x versions was replaced with a true multi-tasking operating system in the switch to NT, Windows 2000, XP and later. The older operating systems could easily be hung up by almost any application taking a little too long to do its work.

Now, all that being said, I do shy away from disk intensive activity and strongly recommend that you do the same. I also avoid doing things that would really hog the CPU, but that's about it.

The good news also is that most CD-burning software will detect and alert to errors rather than just leave you with a corrupt disk. If you suspect a problem is possible, most also have a separate "verify" step. ImgBurn will, in fact, eject and retract the newly burned CD (if it's in a tray) prior to reading and verifying the CD contents.

Bottom line: I'm sure a problem can still happen but it's much harder to get to than we remember.

(Full disclosure: the person asking was a friend and former co-worker at Microsoft. For all I know we were using the same CD-burning equipment ... "back in the day".)

Article C4475 - October 1, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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8 Comments
Simon
October 4, 2010 3:08 AM

> In particular the "cooperative multi-tasking"
> that essentially mimicked true multi tasking in
> Windows 9x versions was replaced with a true
> multi-tasking operating system in the switch to
> NT, Windows 2000, XP and later.

Untrue. Windows 9x (unlike MS-DOS, Windows 3.1 and earlier, and MacOS 9 and earlier) *did* have pre-emptive multitasking [1] -- for 32-bit applications, anyway (16-bit applications still multitasked cooperatively for backwards compatibility reasons). It wasn't very sophisticated, but it did work.

It still wasn't a good idea to multitask during CD burning, probably because the system was only just fast enough to burn a CD when it was devoting 100% of resources to it, forget 50% or 33%.

Of course, a badly-behaving 32-bit application could still bring down the system like a stack of Jenga. It would just have to do a little more than merely taking up all CPU -- like, say, breathe a little too loudly, glance at the VM subsystem the wrong way, or maybe blink, if the stability of Windows 9x is anything like I remember it...

[1] http://support.microsoft.com/kb/117567

Chris
October 5, 2010 12:10 PM

What about dual core processors? Don't they make it safer to burn and do something else at the same time?

Jerry
October 5, 2010 12:33 PM

I can't tell you how many blanks I trashed because of incomplete CD/DVD creation. I use ASHAMPOO, with a Light-On (cheap, cheap) burner. Win7, 2GB RAM, dual core CPU and a TB of space on 2 drives. Now, I set it on the highest speed 32x, set verify on, and let 'er burn. I'll go have a beer or a sandwich or if the ol' lady is around....
I don't burn much, so its not a production issue. Just leavin it be is the best solution for me.

Karl Zick
October 5, 2010 2:54 PM

I'm afraid everyone is missing the point here. The danger in burning a CD and doing other things at the same time in the interaction in your RAM. While burning a CD, information is being transferred into RAM and then to the CD (or DVD). If other things are resident in RAM at the same time (like a screen saver) it could interfere with the transfer process.

Stephen Mann
October 5, 2010 4:06 PM

You said: "Multi-speed drives are able to slow down and burn more slowly if the media is difficult to burn, or presumably if the CPU isn't sending data to be written to the drive fast enough."

This is not correct. Detecting a burn problem would require a read-after-write, which DVD burners don't do. Once you set a burn speed, that's the speed for the duration.

I fondly recall the days of the dreaded "data underflow". We made dozens of CD's daily and had a 50% failure rate. But then, a 300MHz single core PC was state of the art, and a CD burner cost $150.

narumanchianji
October 5, 2010 7:07 PM

reading the article and comments on cd writing in the past was a nostalgia and brought back to memory the tensions and failures of cd writings, wastage and experience

Glenn P.
October 5, 2010 8:52 PM

Oh, good grief! Doodz, burning even a full 80 minutes of music to a CD typically takes at most, what? Ten minutes? Maybe fifteen, if the program in question must spend time normalizing the tracks first? Dead vegetable skins (i.e. "shucks"), at that rate, I just set it up and going, leave it alone just to be on the safe side, and go do something else for the duration! 10-15 minutes is brief enough to be no terrible inconvenience done just once, but it's important enough that if 80 minutes' worth of music were in fact trashed, having to put it all onto another disc, all over again, would be a major nuisance. "Better safe, than sorry" is my motto -- I never, ever do anything with the computer more "straining" than reading a textfile while burning a CD.

David Hutchins
October 5, 2010 9:11 PM

My main computer on XP is a bit on the old side, so I generally don't try to do much when burning a CD or it can generate errors. My newer computer on Win 7 seems less susceptible to problems. Just to be sure, I still burn at the lowest speed and don't do much while the burn is going on. MAYBE I could get away with doing a few other things, but why waste a CD or DVD to find out? It doesn't take THAT long, even at the slowest burn speed.

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